Advice for College Grads -- Part II

You Are a Child of God

British A. Robinson is the director for public-private partnerships in the Office of U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State and the former director of social and international ministries for the Jesuit Conference in the United States.



In his inaugural address as president of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

To college graduates, I say follow your passion, what gives you life and keeps you dreaming, and you will end up where you belong. Don’t worry if things get out of control, or if life throws you a curve. Make the best decisions you can; accept life as it comes; and you will be surprised. As Goethe said, “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

Pay Attention to Whoopi Goldberg

Emil Her Many Horses, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, is a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a traditional doll maker and beadwork artist. This year he served as co-curator of the museum’s exhibit “Identity by Design: Tradition, Change and Celebration in Native Women’s Dresses.”


The one piece of advice I wish I had been given at graduation comes from Whoopi Goldberg. In “Sister Act 2” Whoopi is advising a young singer whose mother does not support her career in music. She tells the singer, “If you wake up in the morning and you are thinking about music

or writing, then you are supposed to be a singer or a writer.”

When I graduated from college, I thought I was going to be a banker, but I was uncertain. It took me some time to learn to pay attention to that small voice inside me. Over a journey of many years, which involved several different career paths, I eventually realized that when I wake up in the morning, I think about art and people who create art. And so I became a museum curator.

Don’t Listen to Negativity

Rick Curry, S.J., is the founder and artistic director of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped and the author of The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking and numerous articles on disability and theater.


Twenty years ago, I was encouraged to take a four-month sabbatical. The question was: Where would I go, and what would I do? I had been involved in basket-making for a long time and had studied under a master basket maker from the Shaker tradition. He encouraged me to take a rather sophisticated course in basketry from a very prestigious craft school in Maine.

I arrived in springtime to begin my blessed sabbatical. To my disappointment, the course was led by a teacher who was somewhat offended by my impudence in presuming that I could do this intricate work in basket weaving with just one hand. And it was a struggle, I must admit. But it was something I was willing to learn and to conquer.

Every time I would work, the teacher would come up behind me and say, “You can’t do this. You can’t do this.” Such a refrain was very foreign to my ears; both my parents and the Jesuits encouraged me to try different things, explore all of my options. As the course progressed, I realized I did not want to work under this negative influence. I had not taken a sabbatical to have yet another battle to prove to somebody that I could achieve something with one arm. With this decision, a great burden was lifted from my shoulders.

That night, a newfound friend invited me to go over to the Wooden Boat School and learn how to make a boat. I said, “Good heavens, if I just flunked out of basket-making school, I can hardly make a boat!” She insisted and, in fact, that was what I was able to do. I eventually built a sailboat, finished it, painted it and rigged it, and one of the greatest days of my life was the day I got in it and sailed it across Penobscot Bay.

Perhaps the moral of the story is, don’t listen to people who are a negative norm in your life. Lean on your courage to try new things and celebrate the outcome.

Hear Your Call to Greatness

Rev. Joseph M. Champlin is the former rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse and the author of more than 50 books, including the standard pastoral handbooks for the planning of a wedding liturgy, Together for Life, and the planning of a funeral, Through Death to Life.


Nathaniel Kick graduated from a Catholic high school and, as a junior at Dartmouth, pondered his future after graduation. Some of his classmates planned on law or medical school; others intended to become stockbrokers or financial advisors. None of these possibilities appealed to Kick. He wanted something more, a career that would transform him, an opportunity to serve others rather than himself.

Kick found the answer to his quest in the Marine Corps. The recruiters offered none of the benefits other service branches provided: free graduate education, travel, financial security. Instead, the Marines simply asked: “Do you have what it takes? Are you willing to be transformed by a rigorous course in self-discipline? Is learning to work as a team, to trust one another and to sacrifice for a principle something you want?”

Kick’s book, One Bullet Away:The Making of a Marine Officer describes how he followed that call to greatness, served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, then left the Marine Corps as a captain. He now is in a dual-degree program at the Harvard Business School and Kennedy School of Government.

My advice for college graduates is not necessarily to enlist in the Marines, but to follow the call to greatness that stirs in their hearts. This means listening attentively to that inner voice both as they pursue their career (or careers) and live their daily lives. Pope John Paul II often declared that the human heart will not be content unless it is self-giving. Following faithfully their personal call to greatness ensures graduates that they will always possess contented hearts.

It’s Not All About You

M. Cathleen Kaveny is the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.


The advice I would give to students as they complete college is this: from this point on, it’s not all about you.

From the time we enter kindergarten until the time we graduate from college, it is all about us. The role of teachers and undergraduate professors is to help us grow and flourish. The burdens these authority figures impose are designed to help us students ourselves.

But after completing your undergraduate education, this changes. In teaching my first-year law students, I don’t worry primarily that they learn for their own sake—I worry that they learn for the sake of the vulnerable clients they will be taking care of in less than three short years. If I don’t do my job right, and my students don’t do theirs, it’s not just their loss. A widow might be exploited without effective redress; an orphan may be deprived of all means of support. An innocent third party might pay the price. Law students have outgrown their role as wards; they have now joined the ranks of society’s caretakers.

Knowing it’s not all about you also helps you protect yourself. Students who are high achievers have been accustomed to clearing every bar and winning every competition. In their academic life, the willingness to compete in contests designed by someone else has consistently been beneficial to them. Things are different in the work world. For example, many big law firms take advantage of the competitive nature of young associates by setting up contests to see who can bill the most hours. Who does this contest benefit? The firm, definitely. The associate, perhaps not. Only if young lawyers clearly realize that the billable hours contest is not all about them, that it was designed to promote other people’s interests, will they be able to distance themselves from it—and to make their own decisions about what balance of work and family life works best for them.

Live Your Life With Patience and Humor

Bill McGarvey is the editor in chief of, an online Catholic magazine for people in their 20’s and 30’s run by the Paulists, and a singer/songwriter. His most recent album is “Beautiful Mess.”


Advice I wish I could’ve given myself when I was graduating from college:

Don’t live for your résumé. Live with imagination, and your résumé will be fine.

Instead of obsessively trying to figure out your vocation, just live your life. (The overexamined life is not worth living, either.)

N.B.A. point guard is probably not a realistic job possibility.

Momentum can be a good thing, but if you’re not thoughtful, it can also lead you into a life you never wanted.

It isn’t the end of the world if you make a mistake or a bad decision.

Never use the words Keanu Reeves and “the next Pacino” in the same sentence.

Until you can say no, your yes means nothing.

The world needs good lawyers—and accountants too.

Laughter and a sense of humor are often signs of health.

If the woman you’re dating gives you a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus as a gift, politely thank her and begin scanning the room for escape routes.

Sell all A.O.L. shares by Dec. 31, 1999.

You’re not alone.

Jesus saved the world, so you don’t have to.

Be very suspicious of free advice and cheap platitudes.

Education Is Just the Beginning

David Gibson is a veteran religion writer and author. His most recent book is The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World.


The old saw that education is wasted on the young is one of those adages that middle-aged folks frustrated with their own choices like to wield against new grads whom they see as wasting a carefree life. Balderdash, tell them. Still, there is an element of wisdom in there, one expressed more charitably by the always humane Albert Einstein: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school.”

I understood that reality only after I had wandered about for much of my 20’s, seemingly aimless, yet in hindsight gaining more wisdom about myself and the world than I could comprehend at the time.

That is always the way. It is not that schooling is in any sense wasted. It’s just that it is only a first step. The Gospel of Matthew describes the young Jesus as “increasing in wisdom and stature.” Especially in the years right after graduation, when we can feel detached from the reassuring framework of education but not yet confident in our understanding of the world, this pilgrimage from knowledge to wisdom is important to remember.

To navigate this time I found it useful to dip back into the texts, and the novels especially, that I was assigned to read in school and either pretended to read, or did so grudgingly. I was astonished at how rich these assignments were for me when they were not homework and how they informed my thinking or spoke to my soul in ways I could never have dreamed. What’s more, they continue to do so to this day, in a kind of viral literacy that led me on to other works that are even richer still.

Yet in the end I tend to come back to a few old favorites, finding something new in them every time simply because I have grown and become a different reader. Or, in the case of the Bible, a wiser Christian. Education, like holiness, is a process that never ceases. And one day, hopefully, wisdom will come as well. That is my prayer.  

Let the Spirit Surprise You

Brenda Eagan, I.B.V.M., is the director of medical school campus ministry at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.


The Holy Spirit certainly had designs on getting me, a Belizean-American and religious of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, into the ministry of leadership in medical school campus ministry. There is no way I could have designed this on my own. My mentor and longtime friend, Eleanor Holland, I.B.V.M., now gone to God, some years ago said, “Brenda, you are called to leadership. You should not hide from this....” She was my high school principal, my mentor, an empowering presence, my advocate and my friend. Her positive and inspiring spirit was second only to my bright and beautiful mother, who spoon-fed me faith, determination and perseverance, and gave me a vision of greatness that helped me to move into my own uncharted future. I wanted to be a force for others the way they were a force for me.

In my ministry, I have the privilege to work with the extremes—the advantaged dominant culture and the disenfranchised minority cultures. And the story is the same: the people of God seek love and meaning. Concrete actions might only spell survival, but in real-life struggle that is enough. I work to nourish and nurture hungry spirits, and the one constant is change. The sick person becomes sicker (or gets well); the college graduate now in medical school or the workplace goes from confident to insecure. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I going to get the job? Am I becoming the person I want to be? Will I be alone? Will anybody ever love me, be faithful to me or understand me? I find myself engaged in the stuff that is important to people, the stuff of life—the heartbreaks, the transitions, the despair, the betrayals, the losses and more. And I am in awe.

There Are No Mistakes

Dan Schutte, the composer of “Here I Am, Lord,” “Sing a New Song,” “City of God” and many other songs, is a founding member of the St. Louis Jesuits, a group of liturgical composers/singers. His most recent album is “Morning Light.”


Many years ago, when I was trying to maneuver one of those painful, confusing bumps in the road of life, a dear Jesuit friend told me, “Dan, there are no mistakes. God is taking you down this road for a reason.” At the time it was little consolation, but later on as I looked back to see how those very difficult months had led me to a place of new hope and much gratitude, I remembered his words.

The people of hope who have most inspired me—people like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., and Pope John XXIII—seem to have a wide, long-range perspective on this world and our human role in it. At their core, they have an incarnational view of things, a sense that God is at every moment taking flesh for us and drawing us to himself. My limited human vision doesn’t usually allow me to see this way, but when I look back over a span of years I am able to see more clearly the moments of God’s grace in my life and be profoundly grateful for them. And maybe, on my good days, I can trust in them and entrust my future into God’s hands.

God can redeem any moment, even the ones that we judge devoid of divine presence. We can choose sin, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t and doesn’t transform our sinfulness into a possibility of grace. When it comes to choosing a direction for my life, I do not believe there are any absolutely right or wrong choices. We do the best we can with the information we have at the moment. Whatever way we choose, God uses it as a vehicle of grace for us. There are no mistakes.

Ask Yourself a Few Questions

Kenneth L. Woodwardis a contributing editor at Newsweek.


When I graduated from college, the one fear I had was this: I did not want to look back at my life somewhere down the road and wish I had chosen another path. So I would encourage any college graduate who has not already done so to ask himself/herself three questions:

First, what is worth doing? This is the question Plato asked himself when he wanted to know “what is the good life?” So it is properly a philosophical question. But it is also properly a theological question, the kind that Augustine put to himself. There is no one answer to this question; it is intensely personal and calls us to live out the answer. The sooner in life we ask it—freshman year is ideal—the sooner we can begin the journey toward an answer.

The second question is: What would I like to do? To answer this question we have to explore and experiment, listening to prompts from the Holy Spirit in the manner of John Henry Newman’s “Lead, kindly light.” If, for example, you are a 280-pound lineman and want to dance ballet, then something has to give—in this case about 100 pounds. It’s amazing how few students or graduates bother to ask this question of themselves until it is too late.

The trick is to ask the second question in light of the first. If we do that, then the third question—What should I do with my life?—tends to answer itself. Not all at once—this is a process—but eventually.

This process is not foolproof, but I have found it the best pedagogical insurance against midlife regret.

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11 years 7 months ago
The quote by B.A. Robinson attributed to Nelson Mandela was incorrect. This quote was never in the inaugural address. Marianne Williamson is the author of this wonderful statement.


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